Ever wanted to learn more about the music and sound effects behind some of your favorite games? Well Director Karen Collins hopes to educate anyone interested about the history behind music in games with her documentary film “Beep.”
Collins has already established herself as an authority on the subject of sound in video games after publishing her books Game Sound and Playing with Sound. In addition she is also a founding member of Ehtonal who developed the application Veemix, a program that allows users to DJ and set musical cues from their own library to games.
Using her acquired knowledge and industry contacts, Collins posted a Kickstarter campaign for her film and has already amassed over $50,000 of her original $40,000 goal. With the last final hours of the Kickstarter ticking down, Collins hopes to collect every dollar she can to help fuel the laundry list of composers and professional sound denizens posted on her campaign.
Her list of desired interviews spans decades of video game history and includes individuals who worked on games like Dead Space, the Mega Man series, Dues Ex, the Final Fantasy franchise, and many more. We wanted to sit down with Collins and ask about her documentary project and learn more about the unique art of sound in video games.
Jesse Tannous: With your project successfully funded what is the next step and when do you feel the film might be released?
Karen Collins: We start filming this week! We’ll be at GameSoundCon in Los Angeles, where we will be filming interviews with the long list of artists / sound designers/middleware vendors who will attend (Austin Wintory, Garry Schyman, Marty O’Donnell, Alex Brandon, Michael Csurics, Charles Deenen, Adam Gubman, Perry Cook, Lance Hayes, Stever Horowitz, Paul Lipson, Scott Looney, Richard Ludlow, Penka Kouneva, Winifred Phillips, Tom Salta, Dave Swenson, Guy Whitmore, Stephan Schutze, Robert Brock, Brian Schmidt and Simon Ashby). We’re excited to have the opportunity to interview so many great people in one place. We plan to edit that material, do some more “local” smaller shoots (Boston, Toronto) until early spring, where we’ll head to UK, California and Japan. We’ll be editing while we go, and plan to have the film ready for post by next summer.
JT: You have a huge list of different industry professionals you wish to interview, who would you put at the top of your list?
KC: We do have a huge list! It’s hard to pick one. I’ve been writing about game audio for nearly 15 years, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the North Americans involved already, so I’m most excited about the chance to meet the Japanese artists. I don’t think I can pick a favorite though!
JT: What do you believe will be the more surprising things that experienced and inexperienced fans of games will learn from this documentary?
KC: There’s all kinds of crazy things that they did to make sound back in the mechanical game era, and this part of game sound’s history is often neglected. I’ve uncovered some great things that surprised me in the past year doing background research, so I’m excited to talk about the mechanical games especially–for instance, the background game music was only really there as a way to combat anti-gambling laws. By adding music, they could call the slot machines “music machines” as opposed to gambling machines!
JT: In your opinion how is video game music unique to other types of music?
KC: The non-linearity of the music has to be its defining feature. Game music doesn’t just start at A and always go to B. Every time you listen, it’s different, because you may take a different path, or have different timing. Today there are so many parameters that influence the instrumentation, the effects, the layers of music, the sequence order. When done well, it’s never the same way twice. The fact that the player has control, to some extent, over how the music is played back gives the listener an agency over the music that you just don’t get with other forms of music.
JT: What do you believe is on the horizon for video game music?
KC: It’s hard to say–I know what I *hope* is on the horizon: bigger budgets. Although technical constraints have been mostly overcome, the artists are really struggling against time and budget constraints. Game music needs more respect, and I’m hoping that our film will open the eyes of game designers and publishers, and make them realize how important the music is to the experience!
As relatively few, if any, documentaries on the subject of music in games exist today, “Beep” will hopefully prove to add a unique perspective about an aspect of video games that many take for granted.